Column: Memo to local politicians: Time to get things done in 2001

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Another new year.

Tuesday, January 02, 2001

Another new year. Ho hum. After forty years of New Year’s celebrations, so much has changed and yet still remains the same. People are living in outer space now, but at the same time other people are dying of hunger. Democracy is breaking out everywhere; the cold war is over and missiles are no longer ready to fire at a moment’s notice. But the victory of capitalism and the globalization of the economy has not brought equal benefits to all. Some are getting richer while many are getting poorer. Dictators around the world still act like bullies, and some human beings still live in fear of the police taking their loved ones away to be tortured or worse.

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It’s a tradition at the beginning of a new year for columns like this to present a few &uot;traditional&uot; topics. First, the writer goes through the events of the past year, mentioning highlights and low points. I could do that, but my memory is so bad I can’t remember the beginning of December all that well. Trying to remember last January presents a major complication. I suspect that you will be able to remember the highlights you want to and forget the low points you need to without any help from me.

On the other hand, columnists often offer predictions about what they think will happen during this new year. Unfortunately, I have no psychic abilities. If you want an opinion about what’s going to happen this year, read the National Enquirer or the Weekly World News. Even if I did know what was going to happen, I wouldn’t tell you. It would take all the mystery out of life!

What I am prepared to do is offer advice to local politicians, as if that’s any easier. They won’t listen to it, and who can blame them? Nobody voted for me in the last election! At any rate, these are some observations about decisions local leaders will be facing in the next few months and years.

It looks like Wal-Mart might be moving to the other side of town. It will mean a bigger store potentially bringing more shoppers into Albert Lea, but it will also leave another empty storefront at Skyline Mall. The way I see it, the empty space at Skyline translates into an opportunity for a new library. The Senior Center is already located at Skyline Mall, so why not move more community-related institutions to that location? It would give the community and the county a library that is more accessible to more people, and, if the library can’t find uses for the whole Wal-Mart space, the rest could be used for community rooms or after-school programs.

Many people are hoping that the Cap Emmons Auditorium can be saved, whatever else happens to the rest of the old High School. I agree. The auditorium would make an excellent regional performing arts facility, available for area schools, organizations and businesses to use. The parts of the rest of the structure that are salvageable could be turned into apartments or condos for middle-income residents. I hope the school board isn’t in a hurry to get rid of the property. Time will be needed to implement any attempts to find new uses for the auditorium.

The county commissioners need to move forward on the courthouse issue and accept the deal offered by Freeborn-Mower – free land for a new courthouse – unless the electricity rates they demand for the required 10-year contract are inflated. I’m not keen on higher property taxes, but I also want to be able to have a courthouse I can be proud of. Our current courthouse looks as if it were designed by a committee forbidden to think about either usability by the general public or appearance. If we can’t afford a courthouse we can actually use and admire, then we ought to get out of the county government business entirely. Maybe the penny pinchers in the county and their commissioners would prefer to send us to Owatonna, Blue Earth or Austin to conduct county-level business. Maybe they’d be even happier if the rest of us just moved away, taking our kids and jobs with us.

The residents of this county need to stop thinking in the siege mentality. The good old days were never as good as people remember them being. We need to take advantage of the possibilities we have today and make use of the skills and energy of the people who live here now. Focusing all of our attention on survival results in an unwillingness to take risks, a lack of imagination, and is a losing proposition that ultimately leads to community disintegration.

David Behling’s is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.